Pet owners slam the pope's words on animals and children as
It's been extensively debated in recent years whether millennials choose to raise plants and pets over children for economical and environmental reasons, or because they're lazy and entitled. Now Pope Francis has weighed in, claiming that not having children is "selfish and weakens us," and that parents are substituting cats and dogs for children.
The statements made during a public audience at the Vatican sparked outrage among pet owners. They say that animals, rather than immediately replacing children, have a lesser environmental imprint, allow people to live a life that is different but as enjoyable, and compensate for financial or biological challenges in having children.
People on social media said that the pope had chosen not to have children and that such statements were hypocritical coming from an organization that had a history of child sexual abuse.
The pope's remarks were also labeled "out of touch" and "sexist" by Guardian readers who replied to a call-out asking for their thoughts.
They were "very ignorant and insensitive," according to Sophie Lusby, a 48-year-old NHS manager in Belfast, who failed to consider that not everyone can or should have children. Given her religion's focus on motherhood, she has grappled with feelings of shame regarding her inability to bear children due to medical reasons. "The pope's statements are highly triggering in that regard."
She went on to say that, while she has two pets, who she says are "wonderful company when you live alone," she doesn't consider them as a replacement for children, and that she has found value in her connections with her nephews, nieces, siblings, and parents. "If Catholicism is about family, I've done a fantastic job of being a good family member and don't need to be reprimanded."
Because of lesser earning power and a more difficult labor market, Estee Nagy, a 27-year-old jeweller from London, claimed that "having a kid in today's environment is a luxury." "It's simpler for people who got lucky and are wealthy or earn more than the average pay, but it's more difficult when there isn't enough."
"Lots of people have dogs and treat them like kids," Stef, who works in education, said of her hometown of Brighton. She has traveled with her rescue dog, Boss, to 11 countries, including the Vatican, and considers him "family."
"I don't believe anyone chooses to have a dog over a child; you have a dog and care for it, and it becomes like a child."
According to Deborah Wells, a psychologist at Queen's University in Belfast, people's sentiments for their pets may represent the enormous psychological advantages of pet ownership, particularly of cats and dogs. It has been demonstrated in studies to promote camaraderie, self-worth, and self-esteem, as well as lessen depression, loneliness, and isolation.
Wells went on to say that there was no indication that individuals were using dogs as substitutes for children, but that the similarity holds true in the sense that animals are also dependents that require care, and many owners form "a tremendous tie of attachment."
Instead, the pope's remarks are likely to reflect the fact that birthrates in Europe have been declining for the past seven decades, particularly in traditionally Catholic countries in the south, where government childcare support is lacking, gender roles are more entrenched, and youth unemployment is high. While just 10% of European women born in the 1950s were childless, this number increased to 15% for women born in the 1970s. Demographers anticipate that from the 1980s onwards, the proportion of women born in the United States will rise, although not at the same rate as males.
The causes of declining birthrates are significantly more complex than personal preference. Precarious employment, costly housing, economic instability, and a lack of cheap childcare and flexible working options, according to Francesca Fiori, a demographer at the University of St Andrews. She went on to say that instead of criticizing people, decision-makers should focus on fixing these challenges.
Bernice Kuang, a fertility trends researcher at the University of Southampton, believes the pope's intervention is premature because evidence suggests that people born in the 1980s and 1990s are delaying childbirth, often until well into their 30s, despite the fact that the climate crisis is increasingly being used as an argument against child-rearing for these generations. "It's not that people's desire to have families has waned; the situation for young people is dire."
Although European societies may be concerned about fertility rates as a result of their aging populations and the impact this may have on pensions, healthcare, and the workforce, Kuang believes that these issues can be solved through immigration because global population replacement is not a problem.